SVT-40: The Soviet Standard Semiauto from WW2

The Red Army was interested in developing a semiautomatic rifle clear back to the mid 1920s, and they spent about 15 years running trials and development programs to find one. First in 1930 a Degtyarev design was adopted, followed by the Simonov AVS-36, and then Tokarev won out in 1938 with the SVT-38. Combat experience in the Winter War led to an upgrade program to reduce the weight of the rifle, and that created the SVT-40. Between April 1940 and mid 1942, about 1.4 million SVT-40s were produced in three different factories. They were supposed to be the new standard infantry rifle and also the sniper’s rifle – although they ultimately failed to really be either.

In 1942, production shifted to the AVT-40, identical to the SVT-40 but with a trigger group capable of fully automatic fire. Another roughly 500,000 of these were produced by the end of the war, but the focus of small arms issue had changed to Mosins and submachine guns – options that were a lot cheaper to produce.

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AVS-36 at the Range:


  1. I had a rifle exactly like that. Bought in 1970 for about $100. Never fired it, and sold it when I got married a year later for about the same money. I thought the port at the back was for some way to disassemble it, but I never really tried.

    • I forgot to mention that mine had a crack in the stock, at the wrist. I fixed it with glue and a brass screw. I saw the rifle again at a gun show about 40 years later. I think the asking price was $600 by then.

    • Yes, the port in the rear of the receiver allows for a cleaning rod to be introduced from the rear of the barrel, although the issue cleaning rod is introduced through the muzzle with a protector, much as is that of the Mosin-Nagant manually-operated bolt-action.

      A cartridge poked into the receiver port unlatches the trigger assembly, which can then be removed from the rifle.

      My SVT-40 is a 1943 ex-AVT-40 with a repurposed SVT-38 trigger assembly. Mine was “rode hard and put away wet” but then hot-dip reblued and re-shellacked. Imported from Swan, VT at some point. Mine is quite ammunition sensitive. I’ve got a bunch of early 1970s Polish 147-gr. 7.62x54mmR ball ammo that does really well in it. People always wonder what it is at the rifle range. Some wonder if it is “some kind of” SKS. Others have mistaken it for an M1A/ M14. Mine has stainless steel gas parts to preserve the re-blued originals. Spare parts, accessories, extra magazines, anything really are all unavailable or unbelievably expensive.

  2. “(…)Degtyarev design(…)”
    Drawing of it (and some other challengers) might be seen here
    it is 3rd from top, observe similarity of muzzle device to DShK.

    “(…)new standard infantry rifle(…)”
    Not only (full-length) rifle but also short length Самозарядный карабин Токарева образца 1940 г. see 1st image from top
    which was put in production, but of lesser volume that SVT-40. This weapon also has selective-fire variant, which was not put in production. Some of former were used after war by охотники-промысловики of USSR (hunters living from acquiring animal material for processing).

    “(…)also the sniper(…)” claims that
    …only about 50 000 sniper SVT-40 were manufactured…

    • The Soviets seemed to have really put a lot of development into various muzzle brakes, no? Might be worth an entire Forgotten Weapons episode all their own someday?

  3. RE the gas system: If I’m not mistaken in my physics “cold weather” would yield a higher gas pressure but depending on the lubricant (in Finland I’m near sure that they were run dry as) create more friction. Small point. Have shot one, groped well for all the time it had been around.

  4. Sir,
    mateioal – EXCELENT, but only one remark:
    1. used rifle, the magazine catch MUST by “folds” not “down” (to no lost the magazine).

    Berst regards
    I have two Tokarev: SVT (produced in 1940 XE9xx) and AVT (produced in 1943 MO 17xx).

  5. It’s worthy of note that the SVT-40 has a fluted chamber, even if limited to the neck and shoulder of the cartridge.
    It’s pretty unusual in gas operated weapons, and breechlock in general.

    • “(…)unusual in gas operated weapons(…)”
      For other weapon being gas-operated and having said trait see ShKAS.

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